Eir: ComReg payphone plan ‘devoid of any justification or logical basis’

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The country’s largest telecom firm has claimed there is a material flaw in the desire by the industry’s regulator to keep public payphones in operation.

Eir has accused ComReg of not carrying out any proper analysis for signalling its intention to keep in place the company’s obligations to provide public payphones around the country.

The telecom firm said ComReg had not used expert evidence or any sufficient or contemporary empirical evidence to justify its conclusions.

It also claimed the regulator had made no effort to quantify the effect that the potential removal of payphones would have on the overall market.

Eir said ComReg had made no effort to define or quantify “a cohort of end-users” which it claimed had no other means of accessing freephone numbers and helplines than via public payphones.

It said most users to a free helpline operated by Dublin City Council to access homeless services made contact via mobile handsets.

The current universal service obligation on Eir to provide public payphones ended on October 15 last year but ComReg wants to extend it up to October 2020.

Public payphone usage is a minuscule fraction of what it used to be. However, ComReg continues to seek to justify intrusive regulation on the basis that some usage, no matter how small, demonstrates a clear societal need,” said Eir.

Eir said the regulator’s plans to simply reintroduce the nationwide universal service obligation on the company for another two years in such a haphazard manner were “devoid of any justification or logical basis” and “beggars belief” in the face of “overwhelming evidence that it is excessive, costly and unjustified”.

Eir said it did not believe that the continuation of the universal service obligation would offer any meaningful solution to “the terminal decline and increasing irrelevance to society of public payphones”.

Eir is allowed to remove a public payphone where its usage in the previous six months averaged less than one minute per day.

It is also allowed to remove phones where there is evidence of anti-social behaviour or its removal is requested by a local authority. At the end of June there were 480 public payphones in 281 locations against 815 a year earlier.

ComReg has argued there is a societal case for keeping in place the universal service obligation to provide public payphones in the medium term.

The cost of providing public payphones in 2015 was just over €320,000, according to Eir. However, ComReg claims the figure was closer to €122,000.

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